Interview Preparation

A little preparation before the interview will help take the edge off of the event. Here are some simple ways to get ready for your meeting.

1. Research the company

By knowing as much as possible about the organization you’re interviewing with, you’ll be able to speak about topics that are relevant to the job you’re applying for. Good places to research company information include:

  • The company’s Web site
  • Online research sources such as Wikipedia, Crunch Base, and LinkedIn

Compile your company information into a company profile something like the following. (Of course, the contents of your format will depend upon what information you’re able to gather.)

COMPANY PROFILE

  • Company’s name:
  • Company’s location:
  • Company’s principal product:
  • Company’s other products:
  • Hiring manager:
  • Company’s annual revenue:
  • Customer demographics:
  • Projected growth:
  • Chief competitor:
  • Company promotional slogan:

2. Learn about your interviewer.

If you can learn a little about the person who will be interviewing you, you’ll be miles ahead of the game. Try to research up one or two things about her accomplishments, history with the organization, outside interests—anything that will help you break the ice and speak to her about things she’s interested in.

For help in how to get the inside scoop on your interviewer, try some of these techniques:

  • Ask people in your professional and personal network what they know about the interviewer.
  • Try sources like Wikipedia and LinkedIn.

Once you’ve uncovered some information about the interviewer, compile it in a profile such as the following.

INTERVIEWER’S PROFILE

  • Name:
  • Title:
  • How long with company:
  • Number of people he supervises:
  • Reports to:
  • Education:
  • Salary:
  • Management style:
  • Personality:

3. Know your Strengths:

A job interview is a two-way street—both you and the employer will be making sales pitches. Go into your interview knowing what you have to offer, make a list of 5 strengths that are most relevant to the role you are interviewing for. Once you are confident in your strengths you will be ready to talk about them in your interview.

Practice telling at least three stories that illustrate your strengths. Be prepared to speak to your strengths throughout the interview in response to relevant questions. Your stories can make the difference between a mediocre and stellar answer.

4. List the questions you want to ask.

In the interview you too are trying to decide where you want to spend eight or more hours a day for the next few years. Be prepared with your own questions, which should:

  • Gather information you need to make your career decision
  • Show that you understand the basics of the job you seek
  • Demonstrate your level of commitment, interest, and abilities

Here are some commonly asked questions, which might help you compile your own. By the way, it’s OK to refer to your list during the interview.

  1. How do you define successful performance in this position?
  2. How do you envision this company changing in five years?
  3. How will the current economic trend impact this department?
  4. What challenges will I inherit when I take this job?
  5. To whom will I report and will anyone report to me?
  6. What have you found to be the most important traits of someone who is successful in this position?
  7. Could you tell me how long you’ve worked for this company and a little bit about how you grew into your current position?
  8. What projects or goals will bring success to your department or team?

Answering Interview Questions

Most interviews last between 20 and 30 minutes. During that time, the interviewer will try to learn the following:

  • The level of your experience and skills
  • Your willingness and ability to learn
  • A sense of your personality, professionalism, and commitment
  • An indication of how you would fit into the organization

Interview Styles

There are two styles of interviewing: traditional and behavior-based. Traditional questions are direct and tend to give the interviewee the sense that he’s being tested, as if there are right and wrong answers. Traditional questions might be something like these:

  • Tell me about yourself?
  • Why do you want to hold this position?
  • Aside from money, what will you gain from having this job?
  • What motivates you to excel?

Behavior-based questions invite the job applicant to tell a story. The theory behind behavior-based interviewing is that by hearing about a job seeker’s past behavior, the employer can predict his future behavior. Here are some sample behavior-based questions.

  • What accomplishment are you particularly proud of?
  • When did you handle conflict with your boss, colleagues, or subordinates? Tell me about it.
  • Tell me about a situation that demonstrates your work habits.
  • Describe a time when you and your superior were in conflict and how it was resolved.

Many managers have been trained in giving behavior-based interviews, so you’re likely to run into them. Others will ask traditional questions, in which case, here’s a tip: Give behavior-based answers whenever possible. Even when asked traditional questions, take every opportunity to tell a short story about one of your accomplishments, a scenario that demonstrates your style of work, or an example of your skills in action. Your behavior-based answers will make your interview more memorable, more meaningful, and more fun for the manager.

Practice Questions for Everyone

To give you a little practice in answering both traditional and behavior-based questions, here are some interview questions that might be asked of an applicant going for a position at any level in an organization. After each question, you’ll find an analysis of the question, which may help you understand how to answer such a question in your job interview.

1. Could you please tell me about yourself?
Although this question is broad, keep your answer focused and relevant to the job you’re applying for. Mention the top three or four aspects of your experience, skills, interests, and personality that make you a qualified candidate for the job.

2. What are your long- and short-term career goals?
Good question! The interviewer is trying to get a feel for why you want this job and how long you’re going to stick with it. The ideal answer will assure the employer that you’re worth his investment—that is, training you, introducing you to clients, entrusting you with responsibility. Your answer should assure him that you’ll be around for awhile—and maybe even a long time.

3. Outside of work, what are some of the things you do?
Employers know that what an applicant does for free can speak louder about his character than what he does for money. Tell the interviewer about something in your nonprofessional life that says: “Hey, I’m a good person.”

4. What strengths do you bring to this job that other candidates might not?
There’s no hidden message here. The employer’s giving you the floor to sell yourself for the job. Prepare well for this answer and deliver it with confidence. After all, who knows more about why you’re suited for the job than you? And make your presentation using brief achievement stories whenever possible.

5. Why do you want to leave your current position?
Ah, the interviewer’s concerned about any problems that might pop up on your next job—especially since that might be with him. Be sure to use good judgment here. Don’t bad-mouth your current boss and don’t bring up anything negative.

6. Why did you leave your last job?
Sounds like the interviewer wants to know if there are any underlying problems like: lack of commitment, difficult personality, poor performance, or anything that might lead to termination. Employers don’t want to take on someone who has a record of walking out on jobs or getting fired. No matter why you left your last job, couch your response in positive terms, without lying.

7. Please explain why you have a gap in your employment history.
With this question, the employer’s looking for any problems in your personal life that might become his headache if he hires you. Explain your gaps honestly, leaning on activities that support your job objective, if that’s possible. If you don’t have anything to say that’s relevant, then talk about activities that show your strength of character and helped you know what you really want to do next: the job you’re interviewing for.

8. Of all the problems you had at your previous position, which was the hardest to deal with?
What a sneaky question! “Of all the problems”… don’t fall for it. Don’t let on that you had lots of problems, even if you did. Instead, refer briefly to an area you—and probably the rest of the world—find challenging, and move right on to how you’ve learned to deal with it.

9. What project required you to work under pressure? And what were the results?
How you respond to this question will tell the interviewer whether or not you like working under pressure. Be honest and positive. All jobs bring with them a certain amount of pressure, but some have a lot more than others. So give an example where the level of pressure was just right for you, which will suggest how much pressure you’re looking for on your next job.

10. What college experience are you especially proud of?
If you haven’t been in the workforce long, this question is your opportunity to give balance to the fact that you don’t have much paid experience. Spotlight your academic and extracurricular achievements, especially the ones that are relevant to your job objective.

11. What classes or training are you planning to pursue at this point?
This one’s tricky. You want to look dedicated to developing your profession but you don’t want to appear to have so much going on that you won’t be 100 percent on the job. Make it clear that your number one priority is your job; developing your profession is second.

Legal Answers to Illegal Questions

Even though it may be illegal for an interviewer to ask a certain question, it’s not illegal for you to answer it. So if you’re asked one of those hot button issues, think carefully before answering. Figure out whether it’s to your advantage to respond honestly or to hedge the issue.

Think about it: Answering honestly might be to your advantage. Let’s say you want to work at an elementary school and the interviewer wants to know if you have children. If you tell him you have two kids, he might see it as a plus.

But let’s say you want to work as a traveling salesperson and the interviewer asks if you have kids? It would probably be better not to talk about your kids at that point. If you don’t want to answer the question, whatever you do, don’t accuse the interviewer of having broken the law. Instead, take a minute to understand what’s behind the question. If he’s asked if you have kids, maybe he’s concerned that you’ll be pulled away from work a lot. In that case, you could answer, “I believe you’re concerned about my attendance on the job. Let me assure you that my personal life won’t interfere with my work.”

Questions You’re Afraid Of

Almost all of us have questions we’d rather not be asked. To avoid going into an interview with anxiety about the possibility of those questions emerging, do two things:

  1. Review your resume before you send it out to be sure it doesn’t highlight anything that would instigate conversation about one of your “dark” issues.
  2. Make a list of the questions you’re afraid of and practice how you’ll answer them in a positive way.

A Word of Thanks

When the interview draws to an end, thank the interviewer by name, saying something like, “Ms. Jones, this interview has been really helpful and enjoyable. Thank you! Is it OK for me to call you tomorrow if I have more questions?” or “I’m very interested in this job. What is the next step in your hiring process?” Make sure you show enthusiasm.

And don’t forget to thank the administrative assistant and receptionist on your way out. And to be a real hit, use their names if you know them. It always helps to be friends with these folks, since they’re the ones who screen calls and messages.

20 Job Interview Tips

  1. Get clear directions to the interview site and arrive on time—or early—for your meeting.
  2. Advise the candidate on appropriate attire for this interview. Remember to remind them not to show cleavage, to dress conservatively, light makeup, no perfume, close-toed shoes, etc.
  3. When you pack your bag for the interview, be sure to put in a few copies of your resume, a pen, note pad, and that list of questions you want to ask. Also bring samples of your work, if you have any (such as a brochure you wrote or a design your created), that’s relevant to the job you’re applying for.
  4. Your interview starts the minute you walk in the company’s front door and lasts until you exit that door. So, keep your best foot forward from start to finish.
  5. Smile, especially when you first meet the interviewer. That first impression will stick in the manager’s mind for a long time.
  6. There’s nothing like a confident handshake! The right amount of tension in your grip is important—not too tight, not too limp.
  7. Eye contact is actually a form of communication and it has a magical ability to build rapport. So, make eye contact with your interviewer, both when you’re talking and when he’s talking.
  8. Try to have good posture that shows you’re alert and focused. Avoid negative body language. In other words, don’t cross your arms over your chest, don’t clench your fists, don’t clutch your purse or briefcase tightly, or do anything that might indicate insecurity, hostility, or resistance to change.
  9. Listen carefully to everything the interviewer says, and ask questions when you don’t understand something. Understanding each question will help you give the best response.
  10. Answer questions with an appropriate balance of confidence and modesty.
  11. Respond with answers based on PAR (Problem, Action, Result): What was a problem you faced? What action did you take to solve it? What was the result?
  12. Shift your interview from an interrogation to a dialog by occasionally finishing your answers with a relevant leading question.
  13. Once in awhile, answer a question by saying what somebody else has said about you. Something like: “My supervisor always used to say, ‘Bob’s the one you want around when it’s time to launch a product.’”
  14. It’s OK to be quiet for a minute before you answer a question. It’ll help you gather your ideas and give a good answer. The employer will appreciate the fact that you’re thoughtful.
  15. Be honest, even if that means saying you don’t know something or you don’t have a particular experience. At some point, you may need to say something like: “No, I’ve never done that, but here’s why I know I can do it, or why I think I’d be very good at it.”
  16. Be prepared to tell stories that demonstrate how you work with people, as the interviewer is undoubtedly curious as to how you’ll fit in with his staff. Remember to weave your stories into the answers of pertinent questions.
  17. A great way to build rapport is to use your interviewer’s name when you answer a question. So learn his name, and, if it’s a tricky one, practice the pronunciation beforehand so it’ll roll off your tongue during your interview.
  18. Delay talking about salary history and expectations until you fully understand what is entailed in the job and you’ve had time to think about what is fair. (More about salary negotiations coming up.)
  19. When introduced to potential co-workers, be friendly. Your interviewer may be watching to see how you interact with his staff and may later ask employees how they liked you.
  20. Send a thank you letter as soon as your interview is completed. After all, the employer took a chunk out of his day to give you a chance to win a job, so this is the time for you to say “thanks” —in writing.

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